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I am currently using a sans serif variable-width font in software I've developed to help teach kids to read.

The font is fairly similar to children's handwriting, so it works great for my readers. However, the most narrow lowercase letters are causing some issues:

enter image description here

(Please ignore the spacing issue with the lowercase j; that was easy to fix in FontForge.)

I'd like to make these lowercase letters significantly wider, to give each letter room to breathe and so that children can more easily consider each letter in isolation. I've increased the tracking which has helped greatly, and I'm exploring adding additional kerning between these glyphs and others.

I'd also like to look into making the letters themselves wider. Monospaced fonts typically use serifs to make these letters much wider. Here is Lotus Coder:

enter image description here

https://www.fontspace.com/lotuscoder-font-f41279

But the children I'm working with don't have an intuitive understanding of serifs, as their primary exposure to letters at this point is handwriting.

I have looked at the lowercase i in dozens of fonts, and outside of serifs the two main techniques used to make them wider are:

  • adding a bit of a flick to the bottom terminal of a glyph (and sometimes the top as well), and
  • having a rightward tilt to the letter (most common in italics)

enter image description here

The same techniques are frequently used for the lowercase j and l.

Any suggestions for fonts which have a wider glyphs for their lowercase i, j or l? Or any other ideas on how to increase the width of these letters?

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Interesting question! I would consider the curl to the left if you had to do anything, definitely on the l (lowercase L) and possibly on the i. It matches handwriting and is used in some of Rosemary Sassoon's fonts, she's one of the top modern experts in this. But you could definitely think carefully about the amount of space around the i, plenty of fonts do that. When you look at fonts adapted for legibility like Verdana, they have quite a bit more space between letters than say Arial, so rn doesn't look like m and cl doesn't look like a d.

Ultimately though, I wonder how much this is worth worrying about. I'm not an early years educator, but my experience with learning is that just making it fun so people want to do it is more important than fussing over every last detail.

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